Last summer, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Monkees as a band by counting down our top 50 Monkees songs. Now, we’re celebrating The Monkees TV show by profiling each and every episode — exactly 50 years after it first premiered.
But today, we’re instead looking instead at some ephemera that came along a lot later that’s worth remembering.
Wait, what…? What are you —
By which we mean, this:
“The Grungies” (The Ben Stiller Show)
Air date: November 15, 1992
Think about it: We all know how influential the Monkees were, as both musicians and television personalities. Their influence helped set the path for music videos and MTV, and rising above their standing as an NBC-sitcom gimmick to become a real group is an inspirational story that we still retell today.
Well, yeah, but —
So you see, what better way to acknowledge the influence the band and the show had than to focus on one particular tribute to the show?
Tribute? This is a tribute?
You could argue for it, yeah. Sure, when Judd Apatow and Ben Stiller came up with this sketch in the writer’s room, they might have initially considered this more as a means by which to condemn the entire grunge movement, with its pretensions and excesses. But if you look closely at the sketch you can see a lot of heartfelt homage coming through for the original.
Do we have to look closely at the sketch?
Oh, don’t be that way. It’ll be worth it.
Consider the four members of the Grungies, and how well they echo their models. You have Bob Odenkirk playing Stone, who does a fair job of giving us Mike Nesmith’s ability to stay calm and focused as things got nuts. And you have Andy Dick as Dolly, channeling the simple ways Peter Tork would look at the world.
And of course there’s Stiller’s Jonsie, combining elements of Micky Dolenz’s bravado and Davy Jones’ tendency to give his heart away. We even have a Davy-inspired love-at-first-sight sequence, where he falls for Goo (Jeanne Tripplehorn), the lead of a girl group the Grungies ask to borrow instruments from for a gig. They do a great job getting the feel of those “Davy fantasies” down, even as the sketch takes aim at the Kurt-and-Courtney romance and all of its excesses.
Um, and the fourth guy?
Oh, you mean Jeff Kahn as Tork, right?
Yeah, the guy who doesn’t do anything.
Actually, he makes a great stand-in for Mr. Schneider; like the other dummy, Tork is the source of a few surprise gags that pop up in the piece. (God, how I miss those adventures he used to have…)
So anyway, in the course of the eight-minute run time, we hit a lot of the set pieces we’d find in an average episode of The Monkees: the band’s under pressure for a gig, they react zanily to the challenges thrown at them, they perform a song (in this case, a parody of Nirvana’s “Lithium” that was uncomfortably close to the original), and have a final zinger to go with before the credits. It has everything an episode of the original had, showing great respect for the source material.
You mean, everything except the actually Monkees, right?
Micky Dolenz plays the role of Josh Goldsilver, the suit from the record label who wants to sign the Grungies to a deal. And as Goldsilver, Dolenz does a great job of playing one of the types of characters he would work against back in the original, really taking to the max such outrageous elements as the fake sincerity under the gold chains and rat tail.
Yeah, we’ll try not to dwell too hard on that. There’s a lot from the ’90s I’m not going to defend.
Keep in mind that the sketch, which gathered a good portion of the talent responsible for much of the comedy on film and cable for the last 25 years (as well as leading to a notorious feud between Apatow and Mark Brazil captured in a nasty email chain), was note perfect in its tribute to the original material. They could have concentrated on just a thin pretense of reference to the NBC series as they went after grunge rock, but instead we see the care they took in getting as much right and true to the original as they did.
And if they hadn’t bothered as strenuously as they did, would Micky have come aboard the sketch and been a part of it?
Well, I guess.
See, I told you it’d be worth looking at. Now, I’m going to get ready for my next appendix piece.
What next appendix piece?
The overview of the New Monkees that I’ll start posting —
What? WHAT? WHAAAAAAAAAAAT???!?!?!!!!?!